When you picture your dream home, what does it look like? Maybe it has a sweeping staircase, a cinema room or even a swimming pool?
Whatever is on the must-have list for your ideal property, it probably comes with a heavy price tag.
But Fionnguala Sherry-Brennan from Cardiff has found a way around that. She’s squeezing everything she wants in a home into a tiny space. A 110 sq ft space to be precise. And it’s only cost £10,000.
Fionnguala, a freelance editor, has decided to join the global tiny house movement that’s grown in popularity since the 1990s and has its roots in the States.
Tiny houses differ from caravans and mobile homes. While they are mobile, they’re built using traditional building materials and have most things you would find in a regular house.
And as house prices soar, housing stock diminishes, and the way we live changes, more people are swapping traditional homes for tiny houses.
“It’s exciting. It’s a world of opportunities,” said Fionnguala, who sold her two-bed terraced house in Cardiff to fund her new home.
“It’s a really dinky one, it’s 14ft by 8ft but has a mezzanine loft to add some extra square footage.
“It’s an open space, apart from the bathroom. There’s an L-shaped kitchen and living space and then the bedroom is upstairs in the loft.
“The idea is it will just be me living here. I have a partner who has a house in Cardiff, which is lucky because that’s where I’m living now. But the great thing with tiny houses is that if I decided I wanted to extend, I can take down a wall and do that.”
Fionnguala was inspired to go tiny after watching George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, which showcases the extraordinary world of inspirational small builds.
But it’s not just architectural geniuses who are converting to pint-sized living – look at Instagram, check Pinterest or watch Netflix’s very own Tiny House Nation.
People from 20-something-year-old single millennials to families who have only known suburban life are making the giant leap to tiny living.
And for Fionnguala, it was a no brainer. She learnt how to build her own home herself, meaning the total cost was just £10,000 and the flexibility of tiny houses – which are designed to be able to move – suits her freelance work.
She’s currently building in a warehouse in Porthcawl and when finished, will tow her future home to a plot of land and move in.
She said: “After my initial enthusiasm I started off doing volunteer work with retired carpenters so I would go for two to three weeks at a time and help with whatever they were doing.
“I picked up some skills from there and then I did one week of City & Guilds carpentry course.
“I had a rough budget to start with. I knew how much all the construction materials were going to cost and it works out at around £10,000. If you tell somebody they can build their dream house for ten grand, they wouldn’t believe you.
“I know that once I get to furnish the interior it’s going to go up but because it’s small, you can go a little bit more luxurious because you don’t have to go luxurious for a whole house.”
Fionnguala started building her dream house in 2016 after getting hold of free plans from American tiny house enthusiast Jay Shafer.
“He’s one of the founders of the movement and is the owner of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses which makes homes and sells plans,” she said.
“I got in touch with him and asked if I could buy plans for the smallest tiny house and he said ‘you don’t need to buy them. It’s so small we’re not even building them’.
“I modified the plans for my use. I have a piano for example, so right from the beginning, before I had even decided where the windows were going to go, I thought about where I would put the piano and built around it.
“It’s my house that I’ve designed and built. It’s a lovely feeling.
“I would definitely be downsizing but because I moved out of my house I’ve already downsized quite considerably and what I own now can all fit into a small van, which is great. And because I know how big my wardrobe is and how many drawers I have I have a one in one out policy.”
While Fionnguala’s house will lack the square footage of a more traditional build, it won’t lack the facilities.
Once complete in October, it will comprise of an open place kitchen and living space with seating and a dinning space, a two-pan hob and cooker, a large kitchen sink and a washing/drying machine.
The small bathroom will be big enough to house a sink, a shower and a composting toilet while the bedroom will be upstairs on the mezzanine, assessable by stairs.
Solar panels will generate electricity, the small gas cooker will run off propane and a small water tank will be installed.
People have all kinds of reasons for wanting to live tiny. Some want to be able to move their home around the world with them, some are thinking more about how their lifestyle affects the environments and others just want to own their own home without debt.
Fionnguala said her reasoning is a mixture of all three.
“One thing that annoyed me about owning my own house was that maintenance always had to out-sourced and I never really had the skills to do stuff,” she said. “I thought if I build my own house I would totally know how to fix it.
“That was a real motivator but also, I do really buy into the simple life. Not exactly minimalist, but I have enough and living in a tiny house will mean I have to think carefully about what I bring into it.
“I also like to spend a lot of time outdoors, I think if you have a small space it encourages you to be outdoors more.
“The way I anticipate it affecting my life is that I will have a permanent home. I move a lot, I’ve moved contractors and I’ve gone from one place to another and never laid down roots. I think it’s really disruptive and for me, the lifestyle change means I can lay down roots and live a lifestyle that’s closer to nature.
“If I got a job elsewhere I could take my house with me.
“I will be more resilient in having skills that can be applied in lots of situations and or me, it will be more relaxing.
“I have connections to Portugal and I’ve built the tiny house so it will fit into a shipping container. They’re designed so you can move them and they can be shipped abroad.”
But ideally, Fionnguala will buy a plot of land to house her tiny home but hopes that in the future, community sites will be available for people with tiny houses.
“There are some really clever designs,” she said. “Some are modular, so if you build a house and then your family grows, for example, you can stick them together, you can build up.
“A lot of them have the traditional loft as the bedroom, but for older people and people with mobility issues they can all be built on one level so there’s accessibility.
“They can basically be made for everyone. “
While tiny houses can be a problem solver for many people looking to embrace modern-living, unlike in the US, where trailer parks are fairly commonplace, the practicalities of finding an approved site and having permission from the local council can problematic.
This is one barrier Fionnguala hasn’t yet crossed.
“I think there is a lot of hiding that goes on in the UK,” said Fionnguala. “But I don’t want to do that. It’s going to be completely above board.
“I haven’t yet completely figured out what the rules are, but for me, a farm somewhere would be ideal.
“This is going to be the biggest hurdle.”
In the UK, planning permission for dwellings needs to be granted by the local authority and is often judged on a case-by-case basis. So if Fionnguala was to buy a piece of land to move her home to permanently, she would have to apply for permission from the council first.
However, because tiny houses are designed to conform to the definition of a caravan and can be towed, they can be moved onto a rented lot at a residential park.
They can also be considered a ‘permitted development’, meaning in the right situation can be classed as an outbuilding. In this case, they can be moved onto the ground of another property.
In other parts of the UK, including Bristol, the tiny house movement has boomed. The Tiny House Community Bristol, of which Fionnguala is part of, hopes to develop its own tiny house community – which would include a one-acre community where people can live with their tiny homes.
“That would be the dream,” said Fionnguala. “At the moment, there are so many options and I haven’t decided what I’m going to do or where I want to be.
“I hope local authorities and the government starts to recognise that the way people live is changing and it will need to adapt.
“We’ve seen it with storage containers in Cardiff and we’re seeing it with tiny houses.
“I’d like to see a new ‘super band A’ council tax banding system which takes into account tiny houses and the lesser impact they have on the environment and pieces of land that are available for these properties.
“We waste so much space when building houses and with the housing crisis as it is, it’s a no brainer.”
“I just can’t wait to get in there now. My family and friends have all been supportive and my mum keeps saying ‘I can’t wait to come and see your new tiny home’.
“For me, it’s perfect and I would definitely say it’s a long-term move.”
This content was originally published here.